Last Rant on Videogames: Gundam Hammer! [Gundam Battle Assault 2]

As I seem to be doing lately, this one's a bit about a specific game and a wide strafe around the concept it embodies.

Today's rant?  Gundam Battle Assault 2!

I'm a big fan of 2D fighters.  I love competition, and, as anyone who's played with me a game containing any such element can attest, I am a glutton for it.  It's not the winning, so much as pitting myself against an opponent, regardless of the opponent.  It's especially bad with 2D fighters.  I can play CvS2, a game I consider a pinnacle of the genre, endlessly.

However, though today's game is a 2D fighter, that's not really the genre I'm talking about.  As a bit of background, I'm a huge nerd.  If the fact that this is on the blog for a retro gaming podcast didn't indicate that to you, you might want to practice some logic puzzles or something.  Being a huge nerd, I'm a fairly big fan of giant robots.  My biggest exposure to shows with these glorious machines is the Gundam series.  I've never actually watched one to completion, but the idea has always captivated me.

Enter what might, for me, one of the greatest franchise exploitation games ever.  GBA2, not to be confused with the Nintendo DS, is a 2D fighter featuring giant robots from the Gundam universe duking it out in cheesy glory.  This is a game of total abnegation for me; I can zone out to this game for hours.  The AI, even on the hardest setting, is never really a good match for the prowess of a skilled player, and the survival mode is rather forgiving with regards to taking damage.

Let's break it down a bit.  First off, the life gauge is a bit different than I've seen in any other fighter.  Rather than a single discrete health gauge, you have three gauges.  As one runs out, your suit overheats, causing you to go prone for a moment.  That, in itself, isn't a huge deal, but it's important for two reasons.  The first is that the survival mode just refills your current gauge when progressing, rather than restoring some arbitrary amount of health.

The second reason this is important is that you can attack prone enemies.  I've known several people over the years who have griped about the inability to sucker punch Ryu after you've jumped his Hadouken and tripped him.  Well, lament no more, random people!  Part of mastering this game, to me, is knowing when to follow up your attack with a series of kicks in the side while your opponent is down.  The comboing system in this is about what you'd expect.  As a fighter takes damage, they recoil slightly.  More hits cause them to recoil more, until you take too long to hit them.  At this point, they may attack or guard as normal.

Sadly, there aren't very many ridiculous combos available.  Most involve a series of light hits followed by a strong hit and maybe a super.  Supers are limited in this game, which is a bit of a departure from the Capcom driven arena.  You have three supers which are all activated in the same manner (QCF+2 attack buttons).  The results, however, vary wildly.  Each suit definitely has a unique flavor to them, and the power of a super attack can very easily dictate your choice in mechanized monstrosity.

Almost every suit has some sort of ranged attack, mostly accomplished with a Hadouken movement and punch.  Additionally, some suits have what are known in the universe as funnels.  These little guys just pop out of your mech and float around for a bit.  The opponent can destroy them if they manage to land a hit, but they're otherwise unobtrusive.  Usually.  At literally any time, you may input the command to fire them.  This can lead to some interesting mind games, especially if you vary your funnel use against a seasoned opponent.

The two big departures from what are, for me, the standards in this genre, are the ability to jump jet and unblockable attacks.  Unblockables have been seeing more use lately, with the pretty nifty addition thereof to SF4.  In this game, they range from fairly well balanced to absurdly powerful.  The telltale indicator of this attack is a bright pink glow, which is always amusing.  The notable thing is that, at least from my potentially non-linear perspective with respect to time, this was a new concept.

The jump jets quite similarly duplicate the effects of high jumping or super jumping from SF.  However, the action is mapped to a single button.  When you press the button, you'll just fly off in the direction you're holding at the time.  This allows pretty great mobility from what are otherwise slow moving pieces of metal.  Since each jump uses up a boost gauge, which will slowly recharge, you're limited in how you use this.

If you don't feel like just jumping around, you can also fly.  It's pretty amusing, but I don't think that anyone does it on purpose.  You take slightly less damage when flying (and when overheating), so if you can't dodge that unblockable, you could fly into it.  If you have the boost gauge to be flying, though, you could probably just jet jump out of the way.

The last use of the boost gauge is dependent on your suit.  The vast majority will perform a just in time dodge.  This is a great alternative to jumping out of range, especially if you've got your opponent's timing down.  It allows you to maintain your position, whether that's a good thing or not, and try to lay on the pressure.  I find a fair number of unblockable attacks actually run longer than the dodge animation, though, so you're probably screwed if you try this.  A much smaller number of suits have a limited shield instead.  This shield will soak all projectiles and unblockable attacks for a short time.  This is a huge advantage, but most machines that have it make up for it by being about as agile as an inebriated turtle after a "Greatest Circle Spinner" contest.

At the end of it, the suits are quite varied, the combat is both tactical and frenetic, and it's a whole lot of fun.  The game certainly has its flaws, however.  Some bad voice acting aside, the game has pretty striated character tiers.  Rather amusingly, each row of the selection screen almost directly translates to these tiers.  There are a lot of suits that fall into the low-medium to high-medium areas, however.  If you're good enough with a slightly lower power suit, you can reasonably defeat one of greater innate strength.  My personal favorite, though it's not a very practical choice, is the Zaku IIS.  For those of you who don't know, it's got 1.3 times the output of a regular Zaku!  Basically, this thing has no major damaging attacks, but can cross from one side of the screen to the other in under half a second.  Contrast that with a mech that can shoot lasers from its chest as a standard kick attack (I'm not sure how that's kicking) and takes about 5 seconds to walk across the screen.

To be fair, I'm not sure character balance was what the designers were aiming for.  Really, this is a Gundam cheese fest, and that's what it does best.  Each suit is relatively true to its depiction on the shows, and it feels really good to just go and crush some of the weaker suits.  That said, if you're trying to play this competitively, that's a good way to ostracize about half of your character selection.

Since I'm rambling about games of fan service, and not the pervy kind, the genre of games I wanted to wander the borders of is genre cash in games.  After Geremy and I had played this game for about 2 hours one day, he asked me the next whether most of our enjoyment from it was from the fact that it's just filled with characters from a familiar series.  My immediate response was in defense of the general awesomeness of the game, but I know that, at some level, I don't think I would get quite the same enjoyment from a generic robot fighting game.

I play Star Wars: Battlefront II reasons.  It's not super difficult, but requires enough engagement of the mind to stay interesting.  I don't know that I would enjoy it as much were it not a Star Wars property, however.  I'm not the biggest fan of the franchise, but generic guys shooting lasers wouldn't be quite the same.  As I think on it, however, my biggest source of amusement from the game with regards to the idea content mainly stems from the colors.  Seeing a variety of colored light beams fly frantically across your field of vision is, for the non-epilepsically inclined, pretty enjoyable.

However, I've always loved games from either the Star Wars or Gundam franchises.  I've played a variety of Star Trek games and never gotten into, however.  Most of the Gundam games are pretty decent, Journey to Jaburo being one of my favorites.  I've played just as many bad games from that, however.  I'm of the opinion that a game shouldn't be solely judged on the properties its depicting.  Being, despite my efforts to the contrary, a subjective observer, I can't quite tell whether I am judging such things by their own merit, however.

I don't believe property exploitation games necessarily be bad.  I'm under the impression that they tend to be less than average, though.  I'm going to make a radical conclusion about this one.  I postulate that, even if it were just some generic giant robot game, I would enjoy it as thoroughly.  Really, it's giant robots.  It's pretty hard to argue with that.